Study Guide

Number the Stars Criminality

By Lois Lowry


De Frie Danske—The Free Danes—was an illegal newspaper; Peter Neilson brought it to them occasionally, carefully folded and hidden among ordinary books and papers, and Mama always burned it after she and Papa had read it. (1.54)

In the United States today, we are lucky enough to have freedom of speech and freedom of the press; everybody has a right to read or publish a newspaper of his or her choice. But in 1940s Nazi-occupied Denmark, that was not the case. At all. To read an illegal newspaper like De Frie Danske, was incredibly dangerous. Before the Internet (ah!), this was all they had to connect them to the world outside their homes, and they couldn't even do so in peace.

But Annemarie heard Mama and Papa talk […] about […] news of sabotage against the Nazis, bombs hidden and exploded in the factories that produced war materials, and industrial railroad lines damaged so that the goods couldn't be transported. (1.54)

Why did the Danes just give up and allow the Nazis to enter their country? Well, as it turns out, the Danish people are doing their part. Not only did they blow up their own navy so the Nazis couldn't use it, but they are constantly trying to find ways to sabotage the bad guys, working against the war from the inside out.

There was something frightening about his [Peter's] being here at night. Copenhagen had a curfew, and no citizens were allowed out after eight o'clock. It was very dangerous, she knew, for Peter to visit at this time. (3.32)

The Nazis are treating the Danes like children, taking away their freedom to make their own choices. But in this case, the punishments for breaking the rules are much worse than just being grounded for a couple weeks.

The male, accented voice from the kitchen was loud. "We have observed," he said, "that an unusual number of people have gathered at this house tonight. What is the explanation?" (10.13)

Under Nazi rule, everything is suspect. Even a funeral. Well, you know, a fake funeral—but still.

With a swift motion the Nazi officer slapped Mama across her face. She staggered backward, and a white mark on her cheek darkened. (10.26)

If you weren't convinced that the Nazis were part of a corrupt regime, this should drive the point home.

"Many of the fishermen have built hidden places in their boats. I have, too. […] Peter, and others in the Resistance who work with him, bring them [Jews] to me, and to the other fishermen as well. There are people who hide them and help them." (16.22)

Henrik and Peter are saving lives—sounds pretty noble to us. But according to the Nazis' rules, their life-saving work is a criminal act.

Peter Neilsen was dead. It was a painful fact to recall on this day when there was so much joy in Denmark. But Annemarie forced herself to think of her redheaded almost-brother, and how devastating the day was when they received the news that Peter had been captured and executed by the Germans in the public square at Ryvangen, in Copenhagen. (17.7)

Peter is a hero to so many people (including us readers!), but the Nazis saw him as a dangerous criminal who needed to be destroyed. His public execution serves as a reminder to others like him what their fate might be. But something tells us that anyone even resembling Peter would go right on fighting anyway.